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Full text of "NARRATIVE OF AN Attempt to Establish a Mission Among the Chippewa Indians of Canada, BETWEEN THE YEARS 1800 AND 1806"

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NARRATIVE OF AN ATTEMPT TO ESTABLISH 
A MISSION AMONG THE CHIPPEWA IN- 
DIANS OF CANADA, BETWEEN THE 
YEARS 1800 AND 1806. 

COMPILED BY HENRY A. JACOBSON, A.M. 

During the last thirty years of the eighteenth century 
the Chippewas roamed through the forests which then cov- 
ered what is now the State of Michigan and the Province 
of Canada. They had nomadic habits ; during the 
winter they spent their time in hunting wild game or 
trapping muskrats ; in spring they boiled maple sugar ; 
the summer they passed in fishing along lakes Huron, 
St. Clair and Erie. Thus they never remained long at 
the same place, a fact that caused the Moravian authori- 
ties to hesitate for a long time before undertaking a 
mission among them. They were shiftless in many ways. 
Whenever game was scarce or when they had been 
unsuccessful in their hunting expeditions, they visited 
the settlements and danced before every house, at the 
same time begging for food ; this the white people called 
the "begging dance," and it was performed so often 
that the Chippewas were frequently called, both by 
whites and Indians, a "nation of beggars." When they 
had abundance of food, they feasted and made merry 
till it was all consumed. Yet they were fierce warriors ; 
brave, fearless, bold even to recklessness, they were the 
first to propose war, and the last to make peace. They 
were feared by all the other Indian tribes except the 
Tawas, with whom they were on friendly terms, and the 
Mingoes, whom they acknowledged to be their rivals in 



war. They lived usually in huts, though these were not 
very substantial, inasmuch as they were not occupied for 
any length of time. There was neither door nor floor ; 
a cloth hung before the entrance took the place of the 
former, and the ground was a sufficient substitute for 
the latter. Each hut was occupied by five or six families. 
The fire was built in the middle of the room, about which 
they took their positions in a circle, each man having his 
wife seated at his side ; the children were assigned places 
partly before, partly behind their parents. They were 
very uncleanly ; the parts of fish and animals not used 
as food were heaped up aside of their huts and left to 
decay there. They greased their bodies with fish oil, 
which soon emitted a rank odor. They dried their meat 
by hanging it on the rafters overhead. If the supply of 
food was abundant, and they desired to move elsewhere, 
they hid their provisions in holes dug in the ground. 
Rumors reached the ears of the missionaries that at cer- 
tain feasts they were not averse to eating human flesh, 
those captured in war being thus offered up. But, even 
if true, this could not have happened very frequently. 
They had been a very numerous tribe ; and even then 
their remnants embraced a larger number than any other 
tribe in that part of North America. 

These people often wandered into Ohio and there came 
into contact with the Moravian missionaries laboring in the 
Northern part of that territory. They seemed, however, 
more impressed by the prosperity of the Christian In- 
dians than by the teachings of the missionaries. The 
latter were therefore not disposed to accede to the fre- 
quent requests of the Chippewas that teachers should be 
sent among them. But after the Gnadenhuetten massa- 
cre, March 8, 1782, and the consequent temporary 
abandonment of all the mission stations in Ohio, John 
Heckewelder, with a faithful remnant from the settle- 



ments along the Muskingum, lived at New Gnaden- 
huetten on the Huron river,' about thirty miles North- 
west of Detroit, from 1782 to 1786, when he returned 
to Ohio. During these years, although the surrounding 
Chippewas were friendly, yet they seemed too indolent 
to interest themselves in the gospel message. Hecke- 
welder really considered his four years' stay in that 
country as a cruel exile. Zeisberger was with him most 
of the time, and often grieved over the carelessness and 
indifference of the Chippewas. About ten years later 
the good seed planted by these pioneers bore fruit ; for, 
in 1794 and in 1795, the Chippewas sent several urgent 
requests to the Mission Board at Bethlehem that a 
teacher should be appointed to reside among them. 
The Board at first doubted the wisdom of such a course ; 
but, finally, in 1797, upon the recommendation of David 
Zeisberger (then laboring at Goshen, Ohio), they re- 
solved to make the attempt."" Christian Frederick Denke 
was selected as the missionary who was to undertake 
this difficult enterprise, than whom no one better quali- 

' Now the Clinton River. 

*'They may also have been influenced by a tradition that some Welsh 
adventurers had crossed the Atlantic and discovered America long before 
Columbus visited these shores ; but they had been captured by the Indians, 
and their descendants were at this time in captivity among the Chippewas. 
The basis for this legend may be found in another which may be nearer the 
truth, namely, that a black race called the Pani lived beyond the Mississippi 
who were often at war with their Indian neighbors. They were taken cap- 
tive by the Chippewas and their confederates in war, and most of them 
were sold to the white people. A considerable number settled in Detroit 
and the adjoining settlements, and a woman of that race was servant in the 
house of Mr. Matthew Dolson, who lived near Fairfield, Canada. Their 
complexion was usually as dark as that of the West India Negro, though 
some of them were almost white. They had perfect European features, 
were small in stature and had genteel habits. The missionaries frequently 
mention the presence among the Chippewas of these people who were not 
Indians, and who spoke a strange language. 

In his diaries Heckewelder speaks about them under the title of " Welsh 
Indians." 



fied could have been chosen. He was assisted in many 
ways by John Schnall, who was then laboring at Fair- 
field, Canada. 

Christian Frederick Denke was born at Bethlehem, 
September 8, 1775. He was the only son of Jeremias 
Denke, warden at Bethlehem, and Sarah, m.n. Test. 
When he was ten years old, he was sent to Nazareth 
Hall, being one of the first pupils there after its re-open- 
ing in 1785 by Carl Gotthold Reichel ; his first teachers 
were George G. Mueller and Ludwig Huebner. In 
1796 he became a teacher in that institution, remaining 
till 1800. Bro. Reichel soon perceived Denke's earnest 
zeal for the Lord's cause, and in many ways aided in 
developing in him that earnest desire to labor in the 
Lord's vineyard which enabled him to render such effi- 
cient service in later years. Humble, sincere, a true 
child of God, Bro. Denke was ready to perform anything, 
however difiicult it might be, if thereby souls could be 
won for Christ. During his term of service at Nazareth 
Hall, he paid special attention to the study of Botany 
and Latin ; the former assisted him materially when he 
commenced his labors in the forests of Canada ; the 
latter was an equally suitable preparation lor his future 
employment. He was a good linguist, and few of the 
missionaries so thoroughly mastered the difficulties of the 
Indian dialects as he did. For several years he had 
taken deep interest in the labors of Zeisberger and 
Heckewelder ; and therefore he was much rejoiced when 
he received the call to begin a mission among the un- 
civilized and heathen Chippewas. At a solemn service 
held at 3 P.M. on Sunday, April 27, 1800, at Bethlehem, 
he was ordained by Bishop Ettwein as a Deacon of the 
Brethren's Church. The next day, in company with 
Bro. Heckewelder who was returning to Ohio, he set 
out for Goshen on the Muskingum, where he arrived 
about the middle of May. He applied himself diligently 



to the study of the Delaware language under the tuition 
of David Zeisberger, and within a few months he had 
mastered it so thoroughly that he was ready to start for 
Canada. He left Goshen on August 15, and reached 
Fairfield on the twenty ninth of the same month — a very 
quick trip in those days. [Fairfield was organized as a 
mission station in 1792.] In the spring of 1801 some 
Chippewas from the Southwest came to Fairfield and ex- 
pressed a desire that a teacher might live among them. 
Bro. Denke accordingly visited them in order to dis- 
cover whether they were sincere in making this request. 
He left Fairfield on June 25, accompanied hy the Dela- 
■wares Joachim, Boas and Tobias ; his guide was a Chip- 
pewa who had been at Fairfield for some time ; the 
latter's wife (a baptized Delaware) also went with them. 
Denke was on horseback, for at that season of the year 
It was dangerous for one unacquainted with the country 
to travel on foot on account of the marshes and swamps 
through which the road passed. For the first ten miles 
they followed a trail which was barely visible and which 
led them through deep swamps and over fallen trees ; 
several times Denke's horse stuck fast in the swamp 
from which he was extricated with the greatest difficulty. 
His botanical studies were of use to him here; in 
his diary he states that the most numerous trees were 
the beech, black birch, linden, water and white ash, 
maples of various kinds, water and swamp oak, walnut, 
wild cherry, aspen, Lombardy poplar ; fewer in number 
were the white and blackoak, chestnut, very tall and thick 
tulip poplars ; but he did not find many sugar maples. 
Soon they came to a prairie where wild flowers abounded ; 
the ferns were so numerous that their thick roots were 
an obstacle to agriculture.^ By noon they reached the 
Schneyecarte (or Huron strait), which runs nearly par- 

3 He also found a single hazel bush (corylus rostrata), which was a rarity 
iin those parts. 



8 

allel with the Thames and empties into Lake St. Clair.. 
Keeping along its banks, they soon arrived at the Indian^ 
settlement not far from Lake St. Clair. Thirty persons lived 
here, of whom ten were men ; but all except four had gone 
hunting. Their head chief was Nangi, a person of great 
influence among his people, who always evinced a friendly 
disposition towards our missionaries. He was not with 
them, and the subchief of this settlement was also away. 
The latter was seldom at home, and so the Indians were 
beginning to weaken in their allegiance to him. Upon 
invitation of those who had remained at the camp, Denke: 
occupied the chief's hut. The women soon prepared a 
meal for their visitors, after which the latter attempted 
to sleep. But it rained heavily, and they were much, 
annoyed by the presence of snakes and sand flies, so 
that they obtained little rest. After a breakfast of deer's 
head cooked with corn, they consulted with the men of 
the camp about their expressed desires that a teacher 
should live among them. Denke assured them first of 
all that he had not come to take possession of their lands 
or hunting grounds, but to tell them the good words of 
God, their Creator and Savior. The oldest of the Indians 
answered that they were very willing to allow a teacher 
to live among them, but they had no authority to decide 
such matters ; nor could their chief do this ; all such 
transactions must be submitted to the head chief Nangi. 
At the same time, they doubted whether it were worth 
while for Denke to trouble himself about them, for they 
were too wicked ; but he might teach their children to 
be better than they had been. This gave Denke an 
opportunity to proclaim the message of salvation to them 
with much earnestness. He spoke to them by means of 
his interpreter. Boas ;* for the Chippewa and Delaware: 

* Boas lived at New Salem in 1788, and there he and his mother were 
converted. He hacj previously been a very bad man. He spoke both Del- 
aware and Chippewa very fluently. 



languages were so unlike that Denke's knowledge of the 
latter was of little service to him. He then told his 
Delaware converts to describe to these heathen how im- 
proved their condition, as regards externals, was since 
a teacher had lived among them. The entire interview 
lasted three hours ; at the last, the Chippewas promised 
that they would renounce their heathen dances and similar 
ceremonies, stop their intemperate habits, and ask Nangi 
to assign a piece of ground for the mission dwelling. 
Then Denke returned to Fairfield. On July 1 1 he had 
an interview at Detroit with Nangi and eight head men 
of the Chippewa and Tawa (or Ot-tawa) tribes ;' Nangi 
willingly granted Denke's requests, and guaranteed 
him a plot of ground for the mission. 

On April 19, 1802, Denke went to Lake St. Clair in 
order again to confer with the Chippewas about the pro- 
posed mission station. But now he found them un- 
friendly, though they were willing to lead him to Nangi, 
who was camping near Pointe du Chene. After passing 
through the St. Clair ship canal, they reached the house 
of Mrs. Harsen, a widow, who later befriended Denke 
very materially. Nangi soon appeared and promised 
all possible assistance and encouragement. Meanwhile, 
though he was very fond of his rum, he would give orders 
that no liquor should be sold on the mission lands. The 
final assignment of a plot was made at a great council of 
the chiefs held on May 8, and the agreement was ratified 
by the gift of a double string of wampum.* Denke at once 

5 The Tawas had always been more friendly to the Missionaries than the 
Chippewas ; they even protected the mission premises in Northern Ohio 
during some Indian disturbances. 

' Zeisberger explains that the number of the strings of wampum indicated 
the several conditions of the agreement. The contract was completed by 
allowing the wampum to fall on the ground which was to be transferred, 
which the recipient then picked up, thus indicating his endorsement of the 
proposed conditions. The meaning attached to each string was known by 



lO 

cut down trees for his house and planted a few vege- 
tables. But on July 18 the Indians offered him another 
plot situated on an island not far away, containing 1 10 
acres of farm land besides some meadows ; this plot 
lie accepted. Nangi met him there and ratified the 
cession by giving him four strings of wampum, at the 
same time making a long and eloquent speech of wel- 
come. Finally, Denke dedicated this spot to the service 
of the Lord in a fervent prayer. 

On August 2, Bro. Schnall arrived from Fairfield to see 
how Denke was faring. On the evening of August 3, 
while they were preparing their beds on the floor, a 
■spark from the lamp fell into a cask containging 40 
pounds of powder, which stood in the fire place, and a 
frightful explosion ensued. The beams and rafters be- 
gan to fall, and presently everything was in flames. 
The occupants of the room were Denke and Schnall 
who were sitting at the table ; near them stood the eld- 
est daughter (Mrs. Graverod) and the eldest son (Bern- 
hard) of Mrs. Harsen ; and a young boy who worked 
on the farm was sleeping on the floor. Bro. Schnall 
was very badly burnt all over his head and along his 
entire right side. He was the first to rush out of the 
house; but hearing the screams of Mrs. Graverod, he 
hurried in again and found that her clothing was on fire ; 
in extinguishing her blazing clothes and dragging her 
from the house he burnt himself still more. Bernhard 
was also badly burnt ; both he and his sister were hurt 
internally, besides inhaling the flames. The sleeping 
boy was badly but not seriously hurt. Mrs. Harsen and 
another daughter had already retired and, though greatly 
terrified, were uninjured. Denke was somewhat pro- 

the head chiefs. At stated intervals councils were held to recall the stipu- 
lations indicated by them. They were in the custody of the head chief, and 
really constituted the archives of the tribe. 



II 

tected by the wall of the fireplace, so that his injuries 
were less serious. His hair and the left side of his face 
were severely burnt. The house was in ruins, the roof 
was ready to fall in, and the flames were burning fiercely. 
Denke and two workmen soon extinguished the fire, and 
then helped Mrs. Harsen and her daughter to leave their 
rqoms. He found his manuscripts, &c., lying outside 
of the house quite well preserved. Bro. Schnall mean- 
while made his way to the barn and lay down on the straw. 
Soon his face began to swell so much that he was entirely 
blind and remained so for the next 36 hours. By mid- 
night he was suffering from a high fever. The Indians 
applied various remedies, but they afforded no relief. 
On the morning of the fourth Mrs. Graverod and Bern- 
hard suffered intensely. Bro. Denke, though in much 
pain on account of his own injuries, was in constant at- 
tendance upon the sick, comforting and praying with 
them. During the day both Mrs. Graverod and Bern- 
hard were released by death from their great sufferings. 
Shortly before their departure they both declared that 
they loved the Savior and were ready to die ; Bro. 
Denke also gave Mrs. Graverod the Holy Communion. 
She was a widow and left four small children to mourn 
her loss. Bernhard was 27 years old and was able to 
converse in several of the Indian dialects. The next 
day Bro. Denke kept the double funeral, in spite of his 
wounds. The previous evening Bro. Schnall had been 
transported on a sledge to the house of Mr. and Mrs. 
Grosbeck, poor French peasants who had offered to pro- 
vide accommodations for the invalid. There he was 
most devotedly cared for by Bro. Denke and Mrs. Gros- 
beck. (She gave up the best room in the house to her 
guests and with several children lived in the kitchen.) 
The wrappings about the festering sores on his head 
and face had to be renewed very frequently, and thus 



12 

the presence of either of these attendants was required 
day and night. On the seventh of August, Dr. Brown of 
Detroit was sent for, who gave Httle hopes of recovery. 
Fever soon set in and on the ninth it looked as if the suf- 
ferer would not survive. But on the tenth, he began to 
improve ; three days later, Bro. Oppelt and four Indians 
arrived in a canoe from Fairfield ; on the fifteenth all set 
out on their return, Bro. Schnall reclining on some bed- 
ding which Mr. Dolson had sent along.^ One night was 
spent in the canoe, Denke and Oppelt with the Indians 
sleeping about the camp fire on the land. The next day 
they reached Mr. Matthew Dolson's home who took 
Schnall and Denke to Fairfield in his spring wagon two- 
days later. Part of the road led over an Indian trail 
where Bro. Denke had to cut down the trees before the 
wagon could proceed. During all these trying experi- 
ences, Bro. Denke nobly made light of his own injuries, 
and devoted himself entirely to the sick and dying. He 
was untiring in his efforts to minister to their spiritual 
and physical needs, until his own strength well nigh 
broke down under the strain. He showed greater 
heroism during these days than he displayed during all 
his subsequent labors among the Chippewas. 

Denke returned to his post on September ii, and 
found that during his absence some white settlers had 
persuaded the Indians that the sickness then prevailing 
was due to the presence of the new teacher among" 
them. Nangi, however, met these charges with the de- 
mand for an explanation of the fact that the whites were 
more seriously ill than the Indians. The whites also 
claimed the island as their property, so that Denke had 

' There were two persons of this name, viz., John Dolson who lived 24- 
miles, and Matthew Dolson, who lived 34 miles from Fairfield. Here Denke 
probably refers to the latter. They were kind friends of our missionaries to- 
whose comfort they ministered on many occasions. Zeisberger always, 
visited them when he was in that part of Canada. 



13 

eventually to build his house on the original site at Pointe 
du Chene. On October 5, with the help of Mrs. Har- 
sen's sons, he put up a house fourteen feet square ; on 
the fourteenth, he secured the help of a carpenter, and 
by the twenty-seventh his log hut was finished and plas- 
tered on the inside. On October 28 he went to Fair- 
field for his personal belongings ; these Mr. Dolson 
transported to lake St. Clair in one of his vessels which 
left Fairfield on November 3 and reached its destination 
on November 9. Bro. Denke was now taken sick with 
a low fever, so that his household goods could not be put 
in place until the 27th. During this winter he spent his 
time in translating portions of the New Testament into 
Chippewa, which he could now speak somewhat fluently. 
Already on December 9 he had an opportunity of read- 
ing his translation of the crucifixion of Christ to a visiting 
Indian, who easily understood it, and seemed much im- 
pressed by the narrative. On December 20 he built a log 
stable, 7 by 14 feet, for a cow which he had purchased from 
Mr. Grosbeck. He was visited frequently by Indians who 
passed that way, all of whom without exception listened 
attentively to the story of a loving Savior who had suf- 
fered death for their sakes. Yet Denke felt his isolation 
greatly. Wolves, foxes and wildcats prowled about his 
hut every night, and frequently heavy storms threatened 
to blow down his temporary home. For a time he kept 
school for Mrs. Harsen's children, but soon this ceased, 
for they lived a mile away and were kept at home by the 
heavy snowstorms. The visiting Indians were always 
hungry, and it seemed impossible to satisfy their crav- 
ings. Whenever they had anything to eat, they ate all 
day. To gain their confidence Denke had to consent to 
take his meals with them whenever they had been suc- 
cessful in their hunting expeditions, and to accept with- 
out misgivings the food they offered him, even if it was 
the meat of muskrats, dogs, hawks or owls. 



14 

He spent all his spare time in studying the language, 
and in compiling a Chippewa spelling book (which he 
printed at his own expense), besides translating into 
both Delaware and Chippewa the three epistles of St. 
John,* many hymns and portions of Risler's historical 
narratives from the Old Testament. He embraced every 
opportunity of proclaiming the Gospel to the Indians 
who visited him, and endeavored partly by conversations 
with them, partly by reading the Scriptures and singing 
the hymns which he had translated, to convince them of 
the necessity of repentance. But his difficulties in- 
creased ; the Indians seemed impressed as long as he 
spoke to them, but soon after they were ready to listen 
as eagerly to their medicine-men, or to take part most 
zealously in the rain dances, harvest dances and other 
heathen ceremonies in which they delighted.' Nangi 
certainly kept his promise to forbid the sale of liquor to his 
people ; but the white traders persisted, in spite of the 
orders of the government and of Nangi to the contrary, 
in disposing of it to the Chippewas by secret and illegal 
methods. 

Finally, it was deemed advisable to seek another spot in 
the British territory which would be more suitable for a 
mission settlement. And so, on February ii, 1803, he 
left for Fairfield ; thenceforward he assisted the mission- 
aries there and at Petquotting in their labors among the 
Delawares. 

• Denke's translation of the Epistles of St. John into Delaware was. 
printed in 1818 for the American Bible Society in New York by D. Fan- 
shaw, printer. One page contained the translation into Delaware, on the 
opposite page appeared the English. There are 21 of these double pages in 
the book. 

' Zeisberger often asserted that the only hope of converting an Indian 
depended on whether he listened attentively and afterwards retired to some 
secluded place to think over what he had heard. If he at once started on 
a hunting expedition with his companions, no permanent benefit resulted 
from the missionary's teachings. 



15 

On August 7, 1803, he was married at Lititz to Anna- 
Maria Heckedorn, a heroic woman, who for fifteen years; 
shared his missionary labors and trials." On their return 
to Fairfield, they informed the brethren that the authorities; 
at Bethlehem had consented that another attempt to 
establish a mission among the Chippewas should be made- 
during the winter. But Denke and Schnall were first to 
explore the Jonquakamick river for suitable locations. 

These two brethren started on their journey along the 
Jonquakamick on January 1 3, 1 804. The report of this 
journey has the following introductory explanation : 

"After our dear Lord and Savior according to his gra- 
cious will, through the Helpers' Conference, had pointed 
out the river Jonquakamick for a Chippewa Mission 
establishment, and after the needed permission had been 
obtained from the Governor of Canada (for it lies in 
English territory), the mission conference at Fairfield 
had been requested to see that the further necessary- 
measures were consummated, for which in the first place 
an exploring expedition was necessary. The mission'- 
aries having assembled at Fairfield, January 11, 1804, 
determined that this could most conveniently be carried 
out now ; for on account of the severe cold, the mud of the 
marshes would be frozen and therefore passable. Ac^ 
cording to a resolution of the conference held the pre- 
vious autumn at Goshen in the presence of our dear Bro. 
Loskiel, three persons were to go on this expedition^, 
viz., the brethren Schnall, Denke and Rock ; but as the 
last named had not yet arrived among us, and as circum- 
stances prevented another brother from here from joining 
the company, the labor fell only on the brethren Schnall 
and Denke. The deep snow and the cold weather caused 
us to expect many hindrances and difficulties. The river 

'° She was born near York, Penna., October 20, 1782. Her parents were 
John Heckedorn, farmer and miller, and Catharine, m. n. Clewell. 



i6 

is very long and it would have required many days' jour- 
ney to examine its entire length. But as Bro. Denke 
had often traveled from the Chippewa town west of Fair- 
field (named Kitigan) to the point where the river empties 
into Huron Strait (or Schneyecarte), he could give us 
the best information about the greatest portion of the 
river. Below the town of Kitigan the river is free from 
rapids; there are no inflowing creeks, but because the 
banks are very level, they are often overflowed by the 
river. Elevated land and good bottoms suitable for 
locating a village are not lacking. As the entire stream 
had been approved by the Lord in order that a mission 
settlement may be begun there, we believed that this part 
of the river should not be passed by without consulting 
the Lord about it. After earnest deliberation, then, this 
question was decided on, ' Have we anything to ask con- 
cerning the part of the river lying below the town named 
Kitigan?' with the previous understanding that if nothing 
was to be asked, we should remain along the upper 
part of the river. But if we have something to ask, 
then a second question should be put, viz., 'Should we 
examine only the upper part of the river ?' In childlike 
faith we laid this matter before the Lord, and we thank- 
fully accepted His decision that there was nothing to 
ask." 

The two brethren were accompanied by the Delaware 
converts, Daniel and Jonathan, and a Chippewa residing 
at Fairfield, and after a tiresome march they reached 
their destination on the afternoon of January 13. The 
snow was removed from the ground to make room for 
the tent, beds of bark were prepared, and a fire was 
started; yet, although they put on dry clothing and kept 
up a good fire, they passed a cold and almost sleepless 
night. The next day after breakfast they commenced 
selecting sites for a village along the upper portion of 



17 

the river. The spot where they had camped seemed 
favorable for this purpose, for there was a high bank and 
good bottom land, and inland an abundance of building 
timber, besides a number of sugar maple trees. But as 
it was only three miles from a town, and as the wild In- 
dians never fence in their fields, this site would be at- 
tended with bad results for the Christian Indians, and 
the cattle would be insecure. But one mile above the 
camp (and four miles from the town) they found a good 
location where they marked a white oak. It contained 
good bottom land near the river, and not far away, on 
an elevation, ground suitable for a settlement. Sugar 
maples abounded. The next site was on the West side 
of the river. The earth was of a black color and very 
rich, and it was frequently inundated when the river 
overflowed its banks. A creek separated the high ground 
from the bottom land, and the site seemed a favorable 
one, except towards the woods, where it was swampy 
and unsuitable for use as farm land. Some parts also, 
•especially near the hills, seemed to have a sandy soil, in 
that respect resembling Fairfield. This site was not 
marked. The next one lay on the East side of the Jon- 
quakamick, where the river banks were low, the adjacent 
ground was level and dry and covered plentifully with 
sugar maples. Here they marked a black oak. The 
absence of a creek flowing into the river was an objec- 
tion ; however, further inland a creek flowed in a ser- 
pentine course and through a broad valley into the 
river. In this valley there were small but rich patches 
of bottom land. Fields and gardens could also be laid 
out on the other side of the river. The creek might be 
used to drive a mill, and the town might be located on 
the elevated land near by. This third site was indicated 
by marking a sugar maple. An eighth of a mile further 
up the stream they found a fourth site, where they marked 



i8 

a red beech. In the rear of the bottom land ran a pretty 
creek, which (says the diarist) " probably contained spring- 
water, as it was not frozen over." The lowland was. 
covered with sugar maples, and here and there they 
found abandoned Indian sugar huts, which indicated that 
it had been a camping place for sugar-gatherers. The 
upland was good, though building timber was somewhat 
scanty. They then asked the Lord (by means of the lot) 
if they should examine the river further, with the under- 
standing, that if nothing was to be asked, they should 
consider that thus far they had acted in accordance with 
the Lord's will. The answer was "No." 

Then they commenced the return journey, camping 
for the night five miles from Fairfield. After the Indians 
of the company had built a good fire and prepared 
supper, they joined in singing from Bro. Schnall's hymn- 
book, which they had brought with them. The next day 
they reached Fairfield, and the same evening the mission 
conference (at Fairfield) heard their report. The first 
question was whether the unmarked site should be taken 
into consideration with the other sites. This the Lord 
disapproved. Then four papers were inscribed as fol- 
lows: I. a marked white oak, 2. a marked black oak, ,3. 
a marked sugar maple, and 4. a marked red beech. In 
full reliance on the Lord that he would designate the 
most suitable site for a Chippewa mission, one of these 
papers was drawn ; it was found to indicate the site 
marked by a sugar maple. This location was the most 
elevated and the dryest of all, and lay along a fine brook 
with low banks which would furnish good drinking water 
at all seasons of the year. By the trail it was fifteen 
miles from Fairfield, though the air line distance was 
much less. That the Lord had guided them in this matter 
was satisfactorily evidenced to them by the fact that a very 
wealthy Scotch nobleman had recently arrived in the 



19 

province with the intention of locating 500 families along- 
some remote river, so that they might, as it were, be cut 
off from other settlements. His agent during this winter 
selected for this purpose the lower part of the Jonquaka- 
mick river, the eastern shore of Huron strait, and the shore 
of Lake St. Clair, together with the prairies lying between 
the Thames and Huron strait. Therefore, had the mission- 
aries chosen another site for the mission than the one 
they selected, they would have come into too close prox- 
imity to the white settlements." Permission having been 
obtained from the Governor of Canada, Bro. Denke was 
appointed to confer with the Government surveyor, Mr. 
Iredell, concerning the measuring and surveying of the 

" The following letter, dated London, September 2, 1815, was written by 
Bro. Latrobe to Bro. Denke in reference to this undertaking, but nothing 
was done in the matter : This goes (I hope) by the Earl of Selkirk who is 
setting out for Montreal. His Lordship has a large tract of land belonging 
to him on Red river, which empties itself into the southernmost part of 
Hudson's bay. He has there established a colony of Scotchmen, called, if 
I remember right, Kitcannon, and wishes much that the Brethren would 
begin a mission among the Chippeway and other Indians who inhabit the 
neighboring country. I told his Lordship that about the year 1802 and 1803 
you had been stationed among the Chippeways to learn their language, etc., 
but that afterwards that attempt had been given up for want of opportuni- 
ties. He observed that the Indian congregation would do best to come to 
Red river, and offered to give us 12 miles square or as much land as we 
could want for our settlement and the Indians' hunting grounds, if we 
would transfer either the whole or part of our establishment to that region 
where we would be quite safe from the encroachment of white people and 
rum-traders, and have opportunity of bringing the gospel to many heathen 
tribes, — Chippeways, Algonquins, etc. He thought you should make a 
reconnoitering journey to that part of the country, and as he is going thither 
by water through Lake Superior, he would take you and some Indian 
Brethren with him. I mention this scheme which, though most likely at 
present impracticable, is worthy consideration among those which you 
might form or your American Society might form, both for the extension of 
the mission and the dehverance of the Indian congregation from the bane- 
ful influence of their connection with the white people, especially the rum- • 
traders. Perhaps his Lordship will contrive to call and see you. He goes 
by New York, but means to spend the winter in Montreal and go in the 
spring to his establishment. 



20 

desired tract. Laborers were scarce, but the good friend 
of the missionaries, Mr. Dolson, gave them the use of 
some of his employes for this work. 

As soon as the ground was frozen, in the third week of 
December, Mr. Iredell commenced the survey, the ex- 
penses of which on the part of the missionaries were 
refunded by the Government. 

On April 13, 1804, Denke and his wife, with 19 Indians 
who carried their luggage, set out on foot for the new 
mission site. Sr. Denke walked the entire distance, and 
even carried a timid Indian woman across the largest 
swamp on her back. They reached their destination by 
sunset; and after supper Bro. Denke kept the usual 
evening meeting (speaking in Delaware), and dedicated 
that spot to the service of the Lord in prayer. The 
next day trees were felled for the house, land was cleared 
for a garden, and rude tables and benches were con- 
structed of walnut (which was very abundant). Two days 
later Bro. Schnall returned to Fairfield; on the same 
day the Indians put up a temporary shelter, for it was 
raining heavily. By the twenty-sixth they slept in their 
log hut, though it had as yet no doors, windows, fire- 
place or roof. These were all in place by May 5. The 
hut had only one room, which served as bedroom, kitchen 
and study. During the first week many Chippewas from 
the neighboring settlement of Kitigan visited them, but 
they took little interest in what Denke had to say to them. 
They appeared to fear the ridicule of the other Indians, 
who called converted Indians, tauntingly, "Sunday 
Indians." During the month of May four of Mrs. Har- 
sen's family arrived with the things Denke had stored 
with them two years before. For the present, food was 
sent to them at intervals from Fairfield. On Sunday, 
June 3, the first lovefeast was held; and on June 6, 
Denke made his first address in the Chippewa Ian 



21 



guage. The Indians at St. Clair sent a request to him 
to return there, but that was now impossible. The 
Chippewas were constantly passing the hut, but none re- 
mained long, and so Denke had to speak with them in- 
dividually as occasion offered ; yet occasionally he kept 
a meeting for them ; on one occasion 2 1 were present. 
During that summer Br. and Sr. Denke were often very 
sick with fever ; yet he was able to get in his corn, (which 
was only half a crop, by reason of the ravages of black 
and red squirrels,) as well as 22 bushels of potatoes. 

During January, 1805, Nangi wrote from St. Clair that 
he would soon move to the Jonquakamick ; but in Feb- 
ruary news came that he had died. He had begged the 
Frenchman who cared for him in his last moments 
to send for Bro. Denke ; but the Frenchman was a Cath- 
olic and would not accede to his request ; instead of this 
he performed the ceremonies usual among Catholics at 
such times. Nangi died, it is true, with a crucifix in his 
hand, but sorrowing over the absence of "his teacher." 
He had been a good friend to the missionaries, had often 
assisted them, and had been much impressed by Denke's 
talks with him, though he never gave any positive proofs 
of his conversion. Denke grieved over his death as if 
he had been a member of his own family. 

The missionaries were often compelled to witness In- 
dian bear dances, and on one occasion a witch tried to 
bring back the soul to a man who declared he had lost 
it. Denke used every such occasion to tell those who 
would listen to him of the love of God who was able to 
give them new and better souls. During that year (1805) 
he and his wife again had frequent attacks of fever, 
and few Chippewas passed near them. But in November 
they were delighted by a visit from Onagan, a friendly 
Tawa chief whom they had not seen for three years. 
During the fall and winter, several evil disposed Chip- 



22 

pewas threatened them with death because (as they said) 
the teacher had stolen their lands from them ; and several 
plots of this nature almost succeeded. In December, 
too, rumors reached them that the Chippewas, instigated 
by the French whites of St. Clair, would drive the mission- 
aries away. These whites could not forgive Denke for 
hindering them so much in their liquor traffic. During 
March, 1 806, the orgies of the drunken Chippewas were 
worse than any which they had previously witnessed. 
An Indian named Siskiboa was especially hostile ; while 
in Denke' s house he listened attentively, and shook hands 
in a friendly manner when leaving ; but as soon as he 
reached his own people he railed against the missionaries 
in the most bloodthirsty manner. This he had done for 
more than a year. Onagan, being the oldest chief in 
the neighborhood, endeavored to win over these evil 
disposed Indians to the missionary's side ; so did 
Nabbawe, Onagan's son-in-law, but with little success. 
In May a great Chippewa council was held at Belltown, 
more than 30 miles distant, to consider whether they 
should surrender a Chippewa who had in some way 
harmed several of the Scotch settlers on Lord Selkirk's 
land ; it was finally resolved not to give him up. Bro. 
Denke was invited to be present at this council, but by 
advice of Capt. McKee he declined the invitation. 

In August, an addition, 14 by 9, was built to the house, 
so as to secure greater privacy for Sr. Denke. In Sep- 
tember, Siskiboa threatened to attack Denke because 
the mission cattle had trespassed on his land. He insti- 
gated many wicked Chippewas, men, women and chil- 
dren, to camp near the mission premises and to indulge 
in the most heathenish practices, keeping up their shout- 
ing, dancing and drumming for several days and nights. 
In December, Siskiboa spread the report that Denke had 
murdered Kajacki (who had been a good friend of the mis- 



23 

sionary) in May of that year. Siskiboa was considered a 
famous doctor ; and many of the Indians who knew that 
lie had caused the death of some Indians by giving them 
brandy containing the essences of poisonous roots and 
plants, suspected that Siskiboa had himself caused the 
death of Kajacki. The secret purpose of these perse- 
cutions was revealed after the missionaries had left the 
mission ; for Siskiboa immediately took possession of the 
mission house, garden, &c." In great sorrow and disap- 
pointment Denke had to confess that further attempts to 
labor there were fruitless ; and so he determined to re- 
turn to Fairfield. On December 12, he made a farewell 
address to the friendly Chippewas, Jacob, helper at Fair- 
field, acting as interpreter. The next day the entire 
Fairfield congregation came to transport the furniture, 
tooks, etc., to Fairfield ; on the fifteenth, with 14 horses, 
they fetched the corn, potatoes and other vegetables, 
which were all distributed among the Fairfield Indians. 
In January, 1807, Denke met the new Chippewa 
chief, Makongs by name, at St. Clair ; he disapproved 
•of the actions of Siskiboa and his followers, and said that 
he would favor another attempt to found a mission under 
liis own jurisdiction. Though he was hated on account 
of his severity, yet he was able keep his people under 
control. In spite of this fact, it was not considered ad- 
visable to act in accordance with his desires. Moreover, 
as it became evident that the Government would sooner 
or later sell that land to the white settlers, it was deemed 
best to abandon the enterprise altogether. Yet the 
attempts to establish this mission were not wholly with- 
out result ; for Bro. Denke's personal intercourse with 
the Indians caused many among them to turn to the Lord 

" In 1807, when John G. Cunow (from Bethlehem) and Charles Von 
iForestier (from Europe) were on a visitation to the Canada mission, they 
■found Siskiboa still occupying the mission premises. 



24 

with true and earnest repentance, and by such converts 
his name was always held in grateful remembrance. In 
later years Bro. Abraham Luckenbach baptized some of 
the very Chippewas who had been taught by him. 
Most of Bro. Denke's difficulties and the subsequent 
abandonment of the mission may be traced to the prox- 
imity of the white settlers, and their very natural desire 
to have these reserved territories thrown open for pur- 
chase and settlement. Bro. Denke labored at Fairfield 
with Bro. Schnall till they were both driven out by the 
American troops in 1813. He gathered most of the fu- 
gitive Indians at Delaware-town, but in August, 181 5, 
returned with them to Fairfield, and established the set- 
tlement ever since called New Fairfield. In 1 818 he re- 
turned to Bethlehem; from 1820 to 1822 he labored as 
pastor at Hope, North Carolina; from 1822 to 1831 he 
was pastor at Friedberg, N. C, where he built a new 
church and parsonage, which was dedicated July 28, 
1827. On March 31, 1828, his wife died, aged 45 years, 
5 months and 11 days. On September 14 of the same 
year he was married to Maria Steiner, who had been a. 
teacher for 1 3 years at the Salem Female Academy ( 1 8 1 1 
to 1820, and 1824 to 1828). '^ In 1831 he retired from 
active service, and spent the last years of his life at 
Salem, where he devoted himself assiduously to the prac- 
tical study of Botany, which had always been his favorite 
employment. He died at Salem, January 12, 1838, aged 
62 years, 4 months and 4 days, leaving a widow but no 
children to mourn his departure. To the last day of his 
life he took great interest in the Canada mission ; but he 
never complained -about his apparent want of success 
there ; for he felt that the Lord had sustained him and 
had never forsaken him. He finally rested from his 
earthly labors, and his works do follow him. 

'3 Her parents were Abraham and Catharine Steiner. She was born at 
Bethabara, December 25, 1792, and died at Salem, November 27, 1868.